Garden Serenity and a Family Update

Right now, in between our sluggish attempt to finish the school year and staying up-to-date on COVID-19 news, I’m sourcing most of my inner peace through gardening. I have a few experiments underway regarding placement and planters, but most of what I’m doing I’ve done before. It’s immensely gratifying to raise edible plants, even if I’m the only one doing most of the eating. (I live with a bunch of carnivores.)

Hanging strawberries
Japanese eggplant
Spinach
Oregano and Boxwood Basil
English Thyme
Basil

Not pictured is the zucchini, yellow squash, two types of tomatoes, cucumbers, and rosemary. There’ve been a couple of frosty nights when I’ve had to cover the baby plants, but we should be past those days now.

I’m also enjoying the flowering plants and trees around our house.

The magnolia won’t bloom until late May and early June, but I can see she’s getting ready!

So far, I’m successfully keeping the birds away with shiny pinwheels around the garden and luring them elsewhere with strategically-placed bird feeders.

I’ve been watching more videos from Gary Pilarchik (The Rusted Garden), who I’ve followed for years and recently grew his garden into a full-on homestead. He gives more information than my brain can retain, but I love seeing what he comes up with.

I’m also watching current and old episodes of Gardeners’ World with Monty Don through my BritBox subscription. English gardens are truly divine!

I’m spending the rest of my time working on the magazine and teaching online classes, running, reading, and staying in touch with my parents and Grandpa Thomas (whom I delivered groceries to yesterday). I miss my girlfriends terribly, but I am grateful for the technology that keeps us connected.

As for the rest of my family, Chuck is loving his new schedule of traveling some but being mostly at home. He hasn’t spent this much time at home in years, so he’s balancing relaxation with home projects. The yard has never looked better! He’s also gone turkey hunting and fishing, and we’re sharing the responsibility of cooking dinner more often (which I personally love). Sitting on the porch with him in the evenings is one of my favorite hobbies.

Jackson keeps in touch with his friends via text and FaceTime, and he’s taking “social distancing” walks with our neighbor, each keeping to opposite sides of the road. He leans toward introversion, so while he’s bored at times, he’s not suffering a slow death like Jeremy is.

Jeremy is marathon texting and gaming with friends and cousins like a champ. He is wholly uninterested in school, but that’s not new considering none of us is interested in school by late-April. We are all unmotivated. He misses soccer and seeing friends the most, but he’s gaining more driving time and getting plenty of rest.

We also celebrated Dad’s 68th birthday with a Zoom party! Sometimes technology is nice.

It looks like several southern states, including Tennessee, will begin reopening this week. I continue to be skeptical of this decision while also feeling badly for small businesses that are suffering. I guess we won’t know what happens until we try, but with Florida beaches reopening, along with salons, bowling alleys, and other places where people gather and touch the same things, I think the experiment will tell us how serious COVID-19 is this month or if we’ve truly flattened the curve enough to start reopening the world in phases.

We’ve been watching BBC News in the evening, and I recommend you all do the same. It’s easy to view the coronavirus through our American lens, but it’s affecting other parts of the world more drastically. It’s important that we all see the big picture.

Container Gardening + Plant Collecting

Typically, by mid-June, I’d be nurturing a well-groomed garden and plucking off a zucchini here, a tomato there. In previous years, this was the case.

This year is an exception. The recurring late-freezes in April, followed by losing Bill, meant our whole spring was not ideal for lazy days of gardening. By the time I had a mind to plant a few things, the garden space was overgrown with weeds and I didn’t have the time or energy to tackle it.

That’s when my houseplant problem took a turn for the worse.

In between freelance assignments and finishing school for the year, I started picking up a new houseplant on benign trips to Walmart, or splitting a larger plant I already had into two baby plants. I fussed and piddled about.

I even set out two bird feeders just so I’d have something to fiddle with.

It finally occurred to me that I was missing a garden and, instead of making my workspace a complete jungle, I should just plant a container garden to satisfy this need to connect with nature and grow stuff. Why this didn’t occur to me two months ago is a mystery.

I chose herbs for summertime cooking (pesto!), but I also selected three Japanese Eggplants because they are my favorites to grow and eat.

Japanese Eggplant is long and slender, unlike its bulbous American cousin, and is perfect when roasted with herbs. I hope this works because container gardening has already satisfied my springtime/summertime need to fuss in the yard and pick at things.

We eventually cleared out the overgrown garden space (Chuck with his weed-eater and me with my shovel), so perhaps I’ll plant a second season garden in August and cross my fingers for a decent autumn crop.

It’s unclear, though, whether or not container gardening has dampened by houseplant problem. Jury’s still out.

Lastly, how sweet is this boy?

Crawling to summer

This is how the school day begins:

Crawling from the bed to the floor in the school room. Lounging until the last minute. Taking advantage of Mom’s fatigue because I don’t want to start school either.

Let’s start at 9. No, 9:30. Okay, 10.

How many more pages in math? Okay, just do two. Take your time. Yes, go on the front porch. It’s a beautiful morning. Yes, you can finish that later. Go play basketball and listen to your audiobook. I’ll be in the garden.

The day is so lovely! Go play outside.

We’re in the hardest part of the school year. Summer is RIGHT THERE. We can almost touch it. Lazy days of sleeping in and goofing off are within arm’s reach. It’s immensely difficult to stay focused, and while I grant the boys (and myself) a lot of slack, I can’t let us slip too far because we’ll only regret it in August.

But man oh man, how I’d love to just slack… slack like Salem on an afternoon nap.

We will finish the school year in two weeks and check the boxes for fifth and seventh grade. I will wrap up my first year of teaching at our co-op, which has been light years better than I anticipated. (I prepared to struggle. I did not prepare to love these kids as much as I do.)

Our plans for the summer are minimal since I am fiercely protective of our time. With school on hiatus, I’ll have more time to devote to writing fiction, which I’ve missed. There’s soccer camp and a wedding to photograph and time with my nephews. I’m crossing my fingers for a trip to Amarillo to see Michele. There are other things I’d like to do or the boys want to do, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

For now, though, we are crawling. Inching. Looking into the bright light at the end of this short tunnel.

See you soon, summer. We’ve missed you.

 

Then the garden exploded

We’ve been drenched with rain for a solid week, or so it felt, during which I ignored the garden. Last I saw the little baby plants were sprouting mightily and gaining some height. Then yesterday, on the first solidly dry day, I went outside to inspect the garden and found that it had doubled in size.

garden in early June 2016

Remind me next year not to put the zucchini (bottom left) next to the cucumbers (bottom right). Not wise plant placement!

Zucchini blooms:

zucchini bloom

Grow strong, little cucumber:

Grow strong little cucumber

My favorite! Next year, more Japanese Eggplant!

first japanese eggplant

Still don’t know what to expect out of this artichoke, but I’m keeping an eye out for something that looks familiar:

artichoke

Tiny garden spider makes himself at home:

Garden spider

And finally, the property manager, who would like to be left alone, thank you very much:

Salem in June

Like new little baby teeth

You know how exciting it is when those first few teeth pop through your precious baby’s tender gums? You knew it was coming, you saw all the signs. Then suddenly one morning, there’s a tiny white speck. Eureka!

That’s how excited I feel when my newly planted vegetables take root and grow twice their size in under a week.

It brings me such happiness to go in the backyard and see new life growing.

Okra – never grown okra before, but it’s darling:

okra

Sweet Georgia Onions. Can’t wait to sauté them:

onions

Surprise sprout of potatoes, left over from last year. I decided to leave it:

potatoes

Japanese eggplant, my favorite:

Japanese eggplant

Pickling cucumbers:

cucumbers

Sweet basil for a summer of pesto:

basil

Never-grown-before artichoke. No idea what this will look like:

artichoke

The pets are loving the warm sun as much as I am and always join me outside. Look at our gorgeous boy! Major is three years old and far more chilled out than he was a year ago. Thank goodness.

Major May 2016

Salem – God bless – looks completely stoned. But hey – he’s alive.

Salem May 2016

Napping in the sun

Jeremy and I took a moment to mourn this beautiful white moth. RIP pretty thing.

RIP white moth

Though there’s a cold snap this week with temperatures in the 50s and 60s, summer is indeed on its way. Three more days of school and then I’m off the hook for a while. Amen, and amen.

Getting Summer Ready

We are at the point now that we’re peeling ourselves out of bed, schlepping to the school room, and willing ourselves to do the minimum. We are done, done, done. Summer is officially now less than two weeks away. As a gift to myself, I decided that summer will start with Mother’s Day. Though Jeremy will continue with math until early July and Jackson will have weekly review sheets on myriad subjects, the blessed summer schedule will come into effect shortly. Lazy days are ahead, and thank the sweet Lord, because I’m done.

Yesterday the boys and I cleaned out the big toy box in the garage, discarding broken light sabers and cracked Frisbees. We purchased two new basketballs and a kickball and unearthed some outdoor toys they forgot they had. Though we allow video games (which we all enjoy), we place a lot of emphasis on going outside to play. Imagination, competition, creativity, all of it. Go outside, get sweaty. Thirsty? Get a drink from the hose. 

Getting summer ready1

This is my view from the kitchen sink. In this space, as well as in the front yard, summer happens. Neighborhood kids congregate here, and I love it. They are welcome to drink out of the hose too.

I finally, FINALLY got the garden prepped and planted. There were a few threats of freezing temps in early April, and then we got busy, but I got everything in the ground this morning. Special thanks to my husband with super-human strength for helping with the new soil. I’d like to think I could do this without him, but no.

Garden 2016

New this year is okra. I’ve never grown it before, so I don’t know what to expect. Also, artichoke. No clue there. The rest is old standbys – pickling cucumbers, zucchini, big fat sweet Georgia onions, basil, tomatoes, and so on. Here’s hoping the new soil makes a difference because last year’s garden was low yield and near flavorless.

So yeah. I’m counting the days, as are the boys. We’re making mental lists of things we want to do this summer, and aside from one out-of-town trip, the time off will be spent tooling around in town, having friends come to visit, and enjoying the freedom to do whatever comes to mind.

Oh how my garden grows

The weeds are bad, but everything is growing beautifully. Having never grown potatoes before, I didn’t know what to expect. So far, so good!

potatoes

The Japanese eggplant doesn’t seem to be as strong this year, so I might need to give it a little boost.

japanese eggplant

Sweet onions:

sweet onions

Gorgeous romaine lettuce:

romaine

Sweet peas:

string peas

Cucumber:

cucumber grab

My gardening companion:

Major in May 2015

The 2015 Garden

In the ground this season we have basil, sweet peas, yellow onions, russet and fingerling potatoes, red peppers, cucumbers, and Japanese eggplant. There’s also romaine lettuce, which is an experiment.

2015 garden

basil and peppers

russet and fingerling potatoes

sweet peas

sweet onions

Everything will be delicious, but I’m really looking forward to the Japanese eggplant. Roasted and seasoned, they are amazing. Last summer I ate them almost daily, which is why I got two plants instead of one.

japanese eggplant

planted garden

I’ve been gardening since Jeremy was in diapers, and though I took a hiatus when we lived in Texas, I feel like I’m in a good groove now. I’m confident and generally pleased with each season. This little plot of land is precious to me. Thanks to my sweetheart for tilling the soil last weekend so I could dive in and get dirty.

Easy Walnut Pesto

Much happiness here ♥
Garden love

beautiful basilA few weeks ago I learned that I’ve been pruning basil the wrong way, and now that I’ve been more diligent about picking off the correct leaves, my basil plant is flourishing! So much pesto!

Easy Walnut Pesto

2 cups loosely packed basil leaves (approximately)
1/3 cup walnuts
1 large garlic clove (or 2 small ones)
sprinkle of coarse salt
few turns of the pepper mill
olive oil for streaming (about 1/2 cup for thicker pesto, 2/3 oil for pasta sauce)

Put the basil, walnuts, garlic, salt, and pepper into the food processor and cover with the lid. Stream in the olive oil while processing. Use more or less oil depending on the consistency you prefer.

My favorite way to eat pesto is to use it as a sandwich spread, which requires less oil. So delicious!

making the mushroom pesto sandwich

mushroom pesto sandwich

 

Easy Homemade Salsa

If you’re growing your own tomatoes or have access to buy some really great ones, you can make your own salsa all summer long.

Start with about 20 ripe medium tomatoes and two clean Ball jars.

prep tomatoesBoil the tomatoes for 3-5 minutes to loosen the skins.

quick boil tomatoes

Let them cool at least ten minutes after boiling so you can handle them properly. The skins should slip off with ease.

wrinkly

It gets messy here, so have paper towels handy. Carve out the cores and discard them with the skins. What you’re left with are slimy balls of tomato flesh and slime. Sounds yummy, right? If you like chunky salsa, rough chop the tomatoes and dump them back into the large pot you just used to boil them. (Minus the water, of course). If you like pureed salsa like I do, drop the tomatoes into the food processor and blitz until they are the consistency you like.

blitz

Add the pureed tomatoes to the large pot with 1/2 cup white vinegar and a package of salsa seasoning. I use Mrs. Wages. You could be really fancy here and come up with your own seasoning mix, but… Eh. This is easier.

seasoning

boil

Boil the tomatoes, vinegar, and seasoning for about 10-15 minutes. Your kitchen will smell fabulous. Pour the salsa into two large canning jars and let cool to room temperature before placing them in the fridge.

JarIf you’re going to save the salsa for winter, you’ll need to can them properly. However, we’ll eat through this salsa within the month, so keeping it in the fridge is fine.

Enjoy! ♥

Mid-Summer Garden Update

This has been another season of trial and error for me as I attempted to grow strawberries, lettuce, and eggplant. The strawberries were a total fail since I planted them too close together and the birds got to enjoy the fruit long before we did. Instead of fussing over it, I yanked them out and planted zucchini.

Zucchini

The eggplant, on the other hand, has been a great addition to the garden. They are easy to grow and easy to eat.

Slice, season, and roast for 20 minutes: Eggplant Chips

Eggplant chipsHere’s what else we have going on:

Garden in JulyI’ve been making pesto every few days and drying lots of thyme and rosemary. The watermelon was another transplant after the Buttercrunch lettuce turned bitter. (I’m going to make another go at leafy greens in the fall garden.)

Both tomato plants have been producing robust, healthy fruit, so it’s time to make salsa!

Tomatoes for salsaLast year we had an obscene amount of cucumbers, which resulted in a fridge full of dill pickles. This year, I don’t think the cukes are getting enough sunlight. We’re still getting cucumbers, but not nearly the yield we did last year.

Cukes

I think the towering tree is the culprit. It blocks a few hours of bright sun each afternoon and the cucumbers succumb to most of the shade.

Culprit tree

The sweet Georgia onions are perfect! Soon I’ll be pulling out the pickling recipe from my Tupelo Honey Cookbook and making a dozen jars of it. Sweet onions

Of course, a morning in the garden isn’t complete without my two supervisors. ♥Supervisors

 

 

 

Our garden grows

The garden has exploded, which feels my heart with pride and joy. I made a huge mistake by planting the strawberries too close together, so I’ll be snipping the vines as we go along in the season. Live and learn.

They are pretty little things, though.

first strawberries

We’re also having success with the buttercrunch lettuce. Gorgeous and great for wraps!

Lettuce

The sweet onions and tomatoes are doing well, just like last year. The only thing I’m not sure about is the eggplant. We’re having a bug problem there. Otherwise, this year’s garden is quite lovely.

Sweet onions

Tomatoes

Happy Weekend, friends! If you haven’t yet watched Jackson’s second movie, Iron Cat and Thicken, please do so! He’d love to hear your feedback. ♥

Sunshine Love

This weekend was perfect. The weather was sublime, I planted the garden, the boys went to the Orange and White game, and we lounged outside on the patio like we’ve been longing to do since October. It was absolute perfection.

Today is a different story weather-wise, but let’s focus on the good.

In the garden are sweet Georgia onions, rosemary, thyme, three types of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, buttercrunch lettuce, and strawberries. The strawberries and lettuce are experiments. We’ll see what happens.

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Continue reading “Sunshine Love”

Hey Spring!

So glad you showed up.

Dogwoods

Pink

Violets

The garden is nearly prepped, so more goodness will be growing soon. Spring is happiness.

 

A hint of spring

first flower

I know this is a weed, but it’s also a hint of things to come.  A week ago we were sledding  in a foot of snow. Today, I’m on the verge of turning on the air conditioner. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say we were living in Amarillo again. (Remember the one-day blizzards? Ca-razy.)

Salsa, baby!

With a healthy yield of ripe tomatoes, the only thing a girl can do is make a ton of salsa.

how I make salsaSO GOOD. I have one more batch of salsa to make before I pull up all the plants (which are all dying a slow death) and prepare the beds for a fall garden. To date, this has been the most satisfying season of gardening I’ve ever experienced. Thanks be to God for making the earth so rich.

everything you need

A multitude of countdowns

I’ve been anticipating this week all summer. It’s the last week of my first semester in graduate school, which means I have three projects due by Thursday and Friday night. Additionally, we have a big birthday party planned at our house this weekend, so we’ll be working on preparations for that throughout the week. And finally, it’s the first week of football practice where the boys have to be in two places at once. Thank goodness Chuck is in town and we can tackle the football dilemma together. He’ll take one boy, I’ll take the other. (However, this was exactly what I was dreading about having both boys in sports at the same time – splitting the family.)

These are all good things, lest you think I’m complaining. Graduate school, thus far, has been a great experience and I’m eager to start the fall semester. The birthday party should be a blast. (God, please keep the rain at bay!) And football, particularly for Jeremy, is what he lives for each and every day.

Tangent: Allow me to be cynical for a moment and question the necessity of having 14 stick people, four dogs, and a cat on the back of your vehicle.

14 stick peopleI understand that some people love this stuff. I personally don’t (though I fully appreciate the more humorous zombie and Star Wars figures over the plain stickers). I sat behind this van at football practice last week for two hours counting and re-counting the stickers, noticing two sets of adults. They can’t be polygamists because there would only be a second wife instead of a second couple. Are they polyamorous? Are they extended family members who live together? Do they just enjoy adding updated versions of themselves as the year goes on? If one of the pets dies, do you peel off its representative sticker?

I tried not to care, especially because I usually don’t care, but the longer I started at it the more curious and annoyed I became. At least, and I say this honestly, there aren’t names underneath all the figures identifying each person and animal. That really annoys me. Nothing screams “steal my child” like putting their name on the rear window of your car.

But I digress.

I’ll leave you with something more cheerful. I canned two jars of salsa yesterday with tomatoes from my garden. I realize gardening and canning is more enjoyable since it’s not a chore I must do in order to store food for the winter. However, it’s entirely gratifying to prepare food from food that grew in my backyard. It is a great reminder to find joy in the simplest things.

Happy Monday to you, Internet. May your week be grand.

Weekend: Ready, Set, Go

In short:

– Girls Weekend starts tonight! Hurray! Since Lesli moved back to Tennessee, traveling for GW has lessened significantly. I will drive all of 30 minutes to get to her house, which is vastly differently from when I lived in Amarillo and she lived in Washington DC. Furthermore, we’ll be able to carpool when it’s Susan’s turn to host. We haven’t all lived in Tennessee since my boys were babies.

-Jackson will practice football in full pads tonight for the first time. His little lanky body can barely support the helmet, so it will be particularly adorable to see him in full uniform. Pictures to come!

-Major has been the best little running buddy lately. I barely ran in the spring due to shin splints, but I’m shooting for a November race so it’s time to get back to it. Major is improving his ability to stay focused and pace his trot. (He is a natural sprinter, so I’ve worked to slow him down and increase his overall endurance.) The challenge remains to be his attention span, as it pertains to squirrels and birds.

-The cucumbers have taken over the garden. I have more pickles than I ever imagined. If you like dill pickles, please raid my refrigerator.

I’ll leave you with a lengthy video of the animals. Jeremy and I wanted to see what the dog would do if we draped a deer skin over a lawn chair. The cat saw it immediately (of course!) while it took the dog nearly a full minute to notice it (of course!). Enjoy, and happy weekend!

Basil Cashew Pesto

It was time to prune the basil, so it was time to make pesto. Thank you, Tupelo Honey Cafe, for an excellent recipe.

Tupelo Honey Pesto RecipeFresh herbs Into the processor Ready to blitzBasil Cashew PestoI couldn’t wait for pasta. The pesto was lovingly spread on a salami and smoked provolone sandwich. Salami, Provolone, and Pesto SandwichSomeone needs to share this joy with me because no one else in the house will eat pesto. So who’s coming to dinner?

 

Pickle Perfection

It was so simple! With three fat cucumbers from my garden, dill pickling spices, vinegar, and water, we have the most delicious, fresh, crispy dill pickles in our refrigerator. I canned them on Tuesday and Jeremy did a taste test this morning. His eyes got big as he said, “They’re SO GOOD! You should sell them at the Farmer’s Market!”

Maybe pickles are my money maker.

Perfect Pickles

 

Happy Weekend to you, friends!

Garden goes boom!

I love that gardening can be gratifying so quickly. It may feel like the seedlings take forever to get going, but after a few weeks they are all-of-a-sudden huge and producing more zucchini than you can eat. All the rain from last week has taken a toll on my pretties so I’ve rigged a tarp over the plants to protect them for a few days. (You can already see the rot at the bottom of the tomato plant. Too. Much. Rain.) Now I need to get some pine nuts so I can prune the basil and make a gallon of pesto.

Garden goes boom

I’m more than half way through my first semester of graduate school, which means it’s time to hunker down and get working on the big research paper. While the boys and I watched The Lorax Sunday night (which was crap), I organized articles in my binder for easy access. There is much to read and even more to research, so it’s good that most of our traveling for the summer is done.

Research PaperI also registered for fall classes this morning, one of which is Creative Writing: The Novel.

*squeal*